The UN Committee against Forced Disappearances visits Mexico for the first time with 94,426 disappeared

Clothing and personal items found during a search for missing persons in Mante, Tamaulipas, in 2021.
Clothing and personal items found during a search for missing persons in Mante, Tamaulipas, in 2021.Monica Gonzalez

The United Nations Committee against Forced Disappearances has landed in Mexico this Monday in what constitutes the first official visit that the organization has made to a country in its 11 years of existence. And it comes at a time when the North American nation is – according to Amnesty International – at the head of the continent in the number of missing persons: 94,426 since 1964, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons. “It is a historic visit by a human rights committee,” said the president of the organization, Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana, during the welcome with which the members of the institution have been received in Mexico City.

It has not been easy for the UN to get to this point. Its experts have been trying to control the crisis of the disappeared in Mexico since 2013, but all their requests have been denied by successive governments, despite the fact that the country ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2009. “The Committee welcomes with special satisfaction the willingness to receive this visit, which we had requested since 2013,” Villa Quintana said in a statement last week.

Now, finally on Mexican soil, the team of experts will visit 12 states between this Monday and November 26. In the process, they will meet with federal and state authorities, search commissions, victims’ families, officials, civil rights organizations; they will attend exhumations, tracking days and also prisons “to examine their registration systems as a means to prevent enforced disappearances.” The team, which in addition to Villa Quintana, is made up of Juan-Pablo Albán Alencastro, Juan-José López Ortega and Horacio Ravenna, will appear before the media the day their visit ends, and will publish a report with the conclusions of their investigation in March 2021.

During the trip, Villa Quintana explained, his team has two main objectives, “the prevention against forced disappearances and the fight against impunity”, in a country where 97% of crimes remain unsolved. In addition, to this context is added another crisis, the forensic one: more than 52,000 anonymous bodies – according to official data released by the Movement for Our Disappeared – accumulated in overflowing morgues throughout Mexico, the result of the lack of experts, casualties budgetary items that do not allow to reach the necessary resources and a violence that never ceases.

The Ministry of Foreign Relations (SRE) has indicated in a statement that “the Government of Mexico has reiterated its openness to constructive dialogue and cooperation with international human rights treaty bodies and mechanisms.” Along the same lines, the Undersecretary for Human Rights, Population and Migration, Alejandro Encinas, has remarked during the reception of the Committee that “it was only at the beginning of this Government that the State opened fully to scrutiny and international control and recognized the humanitarian and human rights crisis in which our country was, in particular with the crisis of disappearance of persons ”. However, during the first three years of his mandate, the current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has also hindered the arrival of the Committee, like his two predecessors.

When in 2013 the victims of the war against drugs of former PAN president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) began to become especially bloody in the collective conscience, the organization requested for the first time their access to Mexico to carry out an independent scrutiny of the processes of search. The country inaugurated the presidential term of the PRI Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), which continued with the onslaught of his predecessor with similar results: an escalation in violence and disappearances. On that occasion the Government denied him access. Subsequent requests were also systematically denied.

In August 2016, the Office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights “energetically” demanded that the Mexican State recognize the competence of the Committee. Despite multiple protests on numerous occasions by the UN, the government did not give in. Nor did he listen to the families of the victims, who asked time after time for the intervention of the international body, whose greater resources and independence symbolized a real hope of finding the remains of their loved ones. María Herrera, mother of four disappeared, forcibly turned into an activist, brought the case to justice in 2018, during the last months of the Peña Nieto administration.

Herrera won that protection, but in a turn of events, in February 2019, already during López Obrador’s term, the SRE challenged the decision. The measure surprised the complainant and her lawyers, who thought that with the new president, who had campaigned by preaching the end of impunity, the arrival of the Committee would be a matter of time. Months later, in August of the same year, the Mexican State finally accepted the jurisdiction of the United Nations. There had been no progress so far. The Foreign Ministry has pointed out that the visit has taken place “as the conditions related to the pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus have allowed it.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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